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See Inside April 2011

Recommended: A World without Fish

Books and recommendation from Scientific American



Frank Stockton

World without Fish
by Mark Kurlansky. Illustrated by Frank Stockton. Workman, 2011

Tuna, cod, salmon, swordfish—most of the world’s commercial fish species may disappear in the next 50 years as a result of overfishing, pollution and global warming. Timed to coincide with Earth Day and the one-year anniversary of the Gulf oil spill, this beautifully illustrated children’s book explains how fish came to be so imperiled, how their decline affects other organisms, and what people can do about it.

Cave of Forgotten Dreams
Film by Werner Herzog, opens April 29 in theaters across the U.S.

A long time ago, in the dark recesses of a cave in the Ardèche region of south-central France, a visitor working by torchlight expertly applied charcoal to the craggy limestone walls to create a quartet of spirited horses, their mouths open as if whinnying to one another. It is one of humanity’s greatest artworks. It is also one of the first: the paintings in this cave known as Chauvet have been dated to around 32,000 years ago, which, if confirmed, would make them the oldest cave paintings on record.

Since the discovery of the cave in 1994, access has been tightly restricted for fear of upsetting the delicate balance of conditions that have preserved the images for millennia; only a handful of people have ever been allowed entry. Luckily for the rest of us, German filmmaker Werner Herzog is one of them, having obtained exclusive permission from the French government to shoot inside the cave.

This 89-minute documentary film represents Herzog’s first foray into the 3-D medium. Thanks to this technology, viewers feel the claustrophobia of the initial descent into the cave, followed by the relief of entering the spacious first chamber with its glittering stalactites and stalagmites. But it is the lingering, reverent shots of the paint­ings—highlighting, for example, the way their creators used the natural contours of the walls to give depth to the creatures they depicted—that most benefit from the 3-D treatment, revealing these Ice Age artists as keen observers of the natural world.

Herzog makes a few missteps, as when he suggests that it is as if the modern ­human spirit first emerged in western ­Europe. In fact, mounting evidence, in­cluding advanced weaponry and such symbolic items as jewelry, indicates that anatomically modern human beings began thinking like us long before they fanned out from their African birthplace to colonize the rest of the Old World. But that oversight should not deter would-be viewers. Chauvet is a marvel of prehistory, and Herzog’s awe-inspiring tour is the closest we will ever get to the real thing.

ALSO NOTABLE

Flourish: A Visionary New Understanding of Happiness and Well-being,
by Martin Seligman. Free Press, 2011

Crashes, Crises, and Calamities: How We Can Use Science to Read the Early-Warning Signs,
by Len Fisher. Basic Books, 2011

Kraken: The Curious, Exciting, and Slightly Disturbing Science of Squid,
by Wendy Williams. Abrams, 2011

Periodic Tales: A Cultural History of the Elements, from Arsenic to Zinc,
by Hugh Aldersey-Williams. Ecco, 2011

The Immortalization Commission: Science and the Strange Quest to Cheat Death,
by John Gray. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2011

Shadows Bright as Glass: The Remarkable Story of One Man’s Journey from Brain Trauma to Artistic Triumph,
by Amy Ellis Nutt. Free Press, 2011

Modernist Cuisine: The Art and Science of Cooking,
by Nathan Myhrvold, Chris Young and Maxime Bilet. The Cooking Lab, 2011

Infinite Reality: Avatars, Eternal Life, New Worlds, and the Dawn of the Virtual Revolution,
by Jim Blascovich and Jeremy Bailenson. William Morrow, 2011

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